Social enterprises, health-care provision and ethical capital

Lucy Frith (Health Services Research University of Liverpool Liverpool UK)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Publication date: 4 August 2014



The aim of this paper is to advance a conceptual understanding of the role of social enterprises in health care by developing the concept of ethical capital. Social enterprises have been an important part of both the coalition and the previous government’s vision for improving health-care delivery. One of the central arguments for increasing the role of social enterprises in health care is they can provide the benefits of a public service ethos with the efficiencies and innovatory strategies of a business. Social enterprises are well placed to promote the type of values that should underpin health care delivery.


This paper explores the conceptual issues raised by using social enterprises to provide health-care services that were previously provided by the National Health Service (NHS) from an ethical perspective.


It will be argued that conceptualising social enterprises as organisations that can and should produce ethical capital could be a useful way of developing the debate over social enterprises in health care.

Practical implications

The paper provides suggestions on how ethical capital might be produced and monitored in social enterprises.


This paper advances the debate over the use of the concept of ethical capital in social enterprises and explores the relationship between ethical and social capital – both under researched areas. It also contributes to the emerging discussions of social enterprises in current health policy and their role in the radically reformed English NHS.



Frith, L. (2014), "Social enterprises, health-care provision and ethical capital", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 105-120.

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